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Friday, November 2, 2012

Postpone the New York City Marathon

The still-emerging human and financial disaster from Hurricane Sandy compels a postponement -- but not a cancellation -- of the ING New York City Marathon scheduled for this Sunday, November 4th.

I have a different perspective as a professional marathoner, native Staten Islander and entrant in Sunday's New York City Marathon.  There are several reasons to postpone it, and really only one questionable economic rationale to proceed with it as scheduled.  From a purely racing standpoint, when dead bodies are likely to remain undiscovered within shouting distance of the start of the race, it is too disturbing for serious runners to actually perform.  Real runners who train 30-60 miles a week for several months are running a marathon for time, not to have their photos taken or to sightsee.  Real runners know that this week's tragedy is a huge distraction that will diminish their ability to run well, and most will welcome a postponement for that reason. The New York Road Runners Club should be making this point; alas, the NYRRC has become more of a philanthropic organization, devoted to furthering pet causes on other peoples' dime, and it has destroyed much goodwill by maintaining that this race should be run.

(Full disclosure: I am also entered in the November 18th Philadelphia Marathon, which I find preferable on just about every level.  Therefore, I lack the deep personal compulsion to run this race.)

As for our first responders, including policemen, firemen and paramedics, they are physically exhausted from a week of preparations and then cleanup after Sandy. The Marathon will divert their attention and scarce energy. Besides, the Marathon will be held five days after Sandy hit the region. Earthquake survivors have been known to survive without food and water for as long as seven days (some even longer), so it is possible there are yet-to-be-found survivors. Any diversion of resources from finding and rescuing these people -- whom I suspect remain holed up in attics of flooded houses on Staten Island's South Shore -- would be an act of depraved indifference.  Incidentally, both the NYRRC and the New York Police Department have recognized the strain of road running events on city resources; as NYRRC members will attest, there are fewer races run on the streets of New York City, or even within Central Park, now than in past years.

Finally, a postponement would allow for sponsors and vendors to enjoy a second wave of economic activity from returning runners and their families and friends.  Granted, this benefit comes with a corresponding cost to runners who are not residents of the New York metropolitan area and who would incur repeat hotel and travel costs, but see my point above about the performance concerns of serious runners.  Besides, when the number of runners has tripled in 20 years to more than 47,000, there is surely enough demand to compensate for anyone who decides to stay away from New York.  Sponsors would also benefit from avoiding the negative backlash that being associated with this year's Marathon may bring.  These reasons overwhelm the concerns (the excuse, really) of lost economic activity voiced by New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and New York Road Runners Club President Mary Wittenberg. 

I am willing to expand on these sentiments to anyone wanting further information; please contact me by e-mail at

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